Catholicism is only the formal religion of Italy; calcio (association football or soccer) is the religion that inspires most fervor. It is impossible to have a full understanding of Italian social life in this century without knowing something about this hugely popular sport.
   Soccer was imported from England in the late 1880s and took organized form in the early 1890s. The first soccer club was formed in 1893 in Genoa, and the first soccer championship, won by Genoa, took place in May 1898. The early championships were organized on a knockout basis, but after World War Ithe soccer clubs were placed into the system of leagues that is common for most professional sports in Europe. Today, the premier league, Serie A, consists of 20 leading clubs that play one another twice (once at home, once away) in a season that lasts from September to the end of May. The championship-winning club is the one that has amassed most points at the end of the season; clubs earn three points for a win and one point for a tie. The three clubs that earn the fewest points in the season are relegated to Serie B and are replaced by the three clubs who do best in the junior championship. There is also a semiprofessional Serie C, which is organized into northern and southern divisions, and a long array of amateur leagues at regional, provincial, and municipal levels. The biggest clubs—Juventus (which plays in Turin), AC Milan, Internazionale of Milan, and AC Roma—are among the wealthiest sporting businesses in the world. Games between the top teams are watched by as many as 80,000 people and by enormous TV audiences all over the globe. Many of the leading players from Germany, France, South America, and Africa play in Italy, and the top stars earn salaries that match those of basketball or baseball players in the United States. Soccer has not been exempt from the malaise in Italian public life, however. In 2006, a major match-fixing scandal hit several top teams, including Juventus, which was demoted to Serie B after a judicial investigation.
   Italy and Brazil are the most successful nations in international soccer competition. Italy’s most famous clubs have won numerous trans-European and intercontinental club championships, and the nazionale, or national team, has won the World Cup on four occasions (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) and been losing finalist twice (1970, 1994). In 1990, Italy hosted the World Cup, putting on a spectacular show in colossal state-of-the-art stadiums especially built for the event. Italian soccer has historically been characterized by a heavy reliance on defensive, tactical play designed to frustrate opposition teams, but in recent years clubs have adopted a more adventurous, attacking style.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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